International law grants all nations—whether coastal or land-locked—the right to flag marine vessels. Although most commercial boats fly the flags of coastal states, a significant number of vessels sail under the banners of states like Switzerland, Mongolia, and Bolivia. Given that land-locked states by definition lack proprietary coastal interests, there is a heightened risk that these states will fail to police vessels flying under their flags.
With this in mind, Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) is making efforts to engage land-locked nations on the scourge of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. On September 25, Staff Attorney Nick Fromherz led a discussion on IUU fishing at the law school of Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The following weekend, Nick presented at the 6th Annual Bolivian International Law Conference in Santa Cruz.
Nick’s presentation focused on the role played by flag states—and particularly “flags of convenience”—in the tragedy of IUU fishing. When it comes to enforcement of the law, not all flags are created equal. While many states are quite demanding in terms of environmental and safety compliance, other states are willing to allow almost any vessel to fly their flag for a fee. The latter group of states are sometimes called “flags of convenience.” If a ship owner is interested in fishing illegally, the owner will probably register with a flag of convenience. Inspections by the flag state will be lax to non-existent, and safety and environmental rules will frequently go unenforced.
Despite—or perhaps because of—its status as a land-locked state, Bolivia has been labeled a flag of convenience by the International Transport Workers’ Federation. In addition, Bolivia has drawn special attention from the Paris Memorandum of Understanding on Port State Control (the Paris MoU), an inspection regime supported by 27 maritime nations in Europe and the North Atlantic. On several occasions, Bolivia has appeared on the Paris MoU’s “black list,” a designation that triggers heightened scrutiny for vessels flying the Bolivian flag.
In addition to covering the basic contours of international fisheries law, Nick discussed the implications of a recent decision handed down by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). In an April advisory opinion, ITLOS held that flag states have an affirmative duty to combat IUU fishing in the exclusive economic zones of coastal states. The opinion, prompted by the petition of several African nations suffering from extreme levels of IUU fishing, sent a clear message to flag states: Granting a vessel the right to fly a flag comes with meaningful duties, including a duty to combat IUU fishing. Flag states that fail to vet, monitor, and enforce are playing a dangerous game—not only with the fish, but also with themselves.
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Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.